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Jewish Film Festival report: ‘For My Father’

November 24, 2009 – 6:17 pmOne Comment

By Keren Tuch

[Seen a good/bad movie at the Jewish Film Festival? Send us your kvetch/kvell and we’ll post it to the intertubes!]

It’s that time of year again, where I surrender my active lifestyle for sitting still for two hour blocks, empty my wallet and embrace the high quality selection of films that screen in Sydney and Melbourne for the Jewish Film Festival.

If I were to hear about a Hollywood film featuring a suicide bomber roaming the streets of New York, who, on the verge of detonating his shrapnel-filled belt, encountered some locals who challenged his thought process; I would assume it’s another one of those romantic action blockbusters to put on the wait-’till-it-comes-on-TV list. The film For My Father, directed by Dror Zahavi, did not take place in New York but in Israel, and besides a couple of minor stereotypes, seemed very authentic.

formyfatherTerek is a frustrated Palestinian who finds himself in a situation whereby the only solution he can foresee is to blow himself up to redeem his family’s honour. On the drive through the scenic Judean Hills to Tel Aviv, he appears tormented at the upcoming task ahead, yet resolute in his commitment. Once in Tel Aviv, he heads for the bustling shuk (market) and builds up the courage to do the deed, only to find the button doesn’t work.  He scrambles out of the shuk and meanders the back street alleys of Tel Aviv.  It is in this down trodden alley of Tel Aviv where he meets an elderly electrician and his wife who help him fix the detonator button, and an Israeli young woman who herself is marginalised by her Orthodox family.  Through these characters he develops a degree of compassion for the ‘enemy’ and a peek at the complexities that envelope their lives.  With mounting pressure from his comrades back in the West Bank, and a new found affection for a few Israelis, he is forced to decide what his next move will be.

This powerful film had me captivated from woe to go, and elicited my tear reflex a couple of times.  It is refreshing to see humanistic approaches to the age-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  I had never before thought about the mental process that afflicts a suicide bomber in the days and minutes before their premature death.  Nor had I really imagined that a suicide bomber was a human being with positive emotions, a family and aspirations.

For My Father does not glorify terrorism, but it did force me to acknowledge my prejudices and recognise the human aspect of both sides of the story. Politics aside, we are all programmed with the same gamut of emotions.


For My Father is screening in Melbourne tonight. Click here for details.

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One Comment »

  • Sol Salbe says:

    My own review from the Australian Jewish Democratic Society Newsletter:
    Commenting on a recent crop of Israeli films, a reviewer there noted that relations with Palestinians were bad enough already. In those circumstances, the reviewer opined, it may be better if the Palestinians were to miss seeing these films. One of those mentioned was For my father which is slated for the Festival of Jewish Cinema. [The Hebrew title is actually Sof Shavua B’Tel Aviv, which translates precisely as a Weekend in Tel Aviv.]

    In a nutshell, the case against the film was that it showed a Palestinian narrative as if only Israelis can tell it properly. And yes, that criticism is true to a large extent. The reviewer’s case was indeed persuasive and reviewers on the other papers also chimed in with similar arguments, but I would still like my Palestinian friends as well as all other readers to see this movie.

    Why? Because it is important for Palestinians and others to see the conflict through Israeli eyes, just as Israelis need to see the conflict through Palestinian binoculars. The inane proposition, advanced in a Jewish News column at the time, that the Jewish community should protest against the Palestinian film Paradise Now will hopefully not be repeated; for in many ways, this is the Israeli version of Paradise Now. People who see both will appreciate the Rashomon effect.

    Just as in its Palestinian counterpart, this film is about a suicide bombing whose plans go awry. On a Friday, when the Carmel market is bustling with people, Terek, who has managed to make his way inside, triggers the bomb only to discover that the switch is faulty and the bomb cannot go off. He manages to track down an old Jewish electrician who promises to get him a new switch, but alas he will have to wait till Sunday when the Israeli working week resumes.

    The film deals with Terek’s experiences over the next two days while he is waiting for the switch. The glossy, cloy version in the Festival of Jewish Cinema’s guide describes it as a romantic drama in which a Palestinian and Israeli fall in love. To my mind that is an exaggeration, although I think it is fair to say that Terek (played brilliantly by Palestinian-Israeli actor Shredi Jabarin) and Keren do open up emotionally to each other. Keren is also more than estranged from her ultra-orthodox family — as the guide euphemistically puts it. She is a khozeret b’shela – someone who has left the religious world for the secular one. Unlike the guide’s writers, director Dror Zahavi does not shy away from the violent consequent issues of the family honour involved here.

    Nor does Zahavi pull his punches when looking at some of the other issues within Israeli society: including the sacred cows of the treatment of Holocaust survivors and attitudes to those who have lost their children in the conflict. Occasionally Zahavi asks us to suspend disbelief, for example when he gets Terek to look for a new switch, even though the would-be-bomber has been told that removing the explosive belt would result in it going off. But he remains intellectually honest in letting us see how liberal minded Israelis, with a great deal of sympathy for the Palestinians see the world.

    That is the film’s greatest strength but also its greatest weakness. Zahavi explains away Terek’s motivation in being willing to sacrifice his own life in trying to redeem the family honour. His father had previously collaborated with the occupying Israeli security apparatus in order to ensure that Terek, who is a phenomenally talented soccer player, continues to play inside Israel. No doubt the issue of redeeming family honour did play a part in the mind of some of the bombers who took their terrorism to Israeli cities. Paradise Now also alludes to that phenomenon. But studies suggest that it is not a major motivation, and at any rate it is one thing for a Palestinian director to deal with nuances and a different one for an Israeli. A Palestinian director’s primary audience takes the impact of the occupation as the primary motivation for the willingness to engage in suicide bombings, but Zahavi cannot make the same assumption about his audience.

    Not that Zahavi ignores the Occupation and Terek’s broader motivation altogether. When we came out of the cinema in Tel Aviv (yes, on a weekend) both my Israeli friend and I thought that we had seen a pro-Palestinian film. In fact her first question was: “I wonder what ordinary Israelis, [as distinct from highly political peaceniks like us], would think of the film?”

    Maybe that is not the most important question; it is the views of readers that matter. I could spend a lot of paragraphs explaining what I didn’t like in the film. But instead I want to recommend it to you ,despite its weakness. You are going to see some good acting, more than competent direction and brilliant photography which show a part of Tel Aviv which is not as fancy as some.

    Hopefully at least some of the Palestinians who read this review will go and see this film. If any of them feels like coming forward, their comments may provide some interesting reading.

    From Galus Australis: Thanks for the detailed review, Sol!

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